It’s a tune every American has actually heard many times – and can probably recite through heart. Yet how much do you yes, really know around our nationwide anthem? Let’s take a line-by-line tour of the history and meaning behind the lyrics.

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The basics

Like so plenty of famous song of yore, "The Star-Spangled Banner" started as a poem, referred to as “The Defence of ft McHenry.” it was created by Francis Scott key in 1814 during the war of 1812. The stanzas recount the fight of Baltimore, a days-long siege between British and also American forces.

The poem was collection to a tune called “The Anacreontic Song,” i beg your pardon was created in the so late 1700s by a man named man Stafford Smith. The song was attached to the Anacreontic Society, which to be an amateur musician’s and also singer’s club named after the Greek poet Anacreon.

“The Star-Spangled Banner” wasn’t actually adopted as the main anthem of the United states until 1931, despite it was already popular and had already been offered by numerous American institutions by then.

Meet the experts

Here are the professionals who will assist us dig into the song:


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Mark Clague is an combine professor that musicology and American society at the university of Michigan and also a co-founder the the Star Spangled Music Foundation.


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Marc Leepson is one American journalist and historian who has actually written number of books, including a story of Francis Scott Key.


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Alan Taylor is a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian who specializes in the American colonial transformation and early on republic.


Clague: rather of being spelled “oh,” this is the vocative case. That the greatest typo the one sees in any type of recitation that the lyrics.
On the night the September 13, 1814, crucial witnessed component of the battle of Baltimore from aboard a British war ship, whereby he to be being held as a strategic prisoner. The following morning, the looked out and saw the flag rising over Fort McHenry, which moved him to write the poem.Clague: that can’t watch it without light, and also “dawn” and “light” come to be symbols – a feeling of beaconing and lightness – that hope, goodness and optimism. The energy of the new nation is already being foreshadowed.
What therefore proudly us hail’d at the twilight’s last gleaming,Whose wide stripes and bright stars with the perilous fight
The flag he witnessed wasn’t the flag us saw. It wasn’t till 1818 that Congress made decision the flag would have actually 13 stripes and secondary star because that each new state. Clague: One amazing thing is the flag the Key’s looking at – this flag had actually 15 stripes and 15 stars.
O’er the ramparts us watch’d to be so gallantly streaming?And the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Clague: “Rocket” refers to the new Congreve rockets top top the brand-new british bomb ships. Castle the most innovative naval weapons on the earth at the time.
This is the most vital line that the poem, and a climactic line in the song.Leepson: This is self-evident. It’s the crux that the entirety song. They didn’t know until they observed the flag the we’d won, so this is the genesis of the poem.
Leepson: It’s interesting that the a question. The rhetorical, and also it’s part of poetic building and construction to end the verse v a question.
On the shore dimly seen through the mists of the deepWhere the foe’s haughty host in dread quiet reposes,
What is that which the breeze, o’er the towering steep,As that fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?
Leepson: This is about the flag and its movement, stand over ft McHenry and also blowing in the wind. Key is leading as much as the reality that the flag was there prior to the bombing.
Now it catches the gleam that the morning’s first beam,In complete glory reflected now shines in the stream,’Tis the star-spangled banner - O long may it waveO’er the land of the cost-free and the home of the brave!
You’ll notice the punctuation of the critical line changes – and that’s important.Leepson: ~ the battle, the shooting stopped and also there was dead silence. They didn’t know who won. However instantly, they saw the flag was still there and also realized that we won. What far better way to present that 보다 to placed an exclamation point.
The third verse is most likely the many historically problematic verse. Vital was a slave-owner with anti-abolitionist views, and also in this verse he mentions slaves and their role in the fight – top top both the American and also British side. Leepson: You need to read the very first three lines of this stanza together. Ns think Key’s talking about the american who checked out the brothers side, that were mainly enslaved people.
That the havoc of war and the battle’s confusionA home and also a nation should leave us no more?Their blood has wash’d out their foul footstep’s pollution.
Taylor: This component isn’t meant as pro-slavery language. It’s introduce to the British-poisoned ground – your polluting presence on American soil.
Clague: Hirelings were the experienced British troops. Key’s mocking them because that doing it because that the money, along with their stealing and ransoming. Castle were prefer pirates. And also I think “slaves” is a referral to the early american Marines, that were slaves held captive by the Americans that escaped and were available the chance to struggle on the British side to knife freedom.
Leepson:To me, that’s crucial reacting together a slave owner. is the unpatriotic act the he call the “perilous flight,” and also he threatens them with the “gloom the the grave.” To summarize his feelings about it: in ~ the really least, these room not the sentiments the a man who has warm feelings around slaves or enslaved people and those who flew to the side of the British.
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth waveO’er the floor of the free and the residence of the brave.
Clague: This totality stanza was cut from the national Anthem due to the fact that of its mocking of the British. As soon as we became allies with them in WWII, the verse drops the end of usage in “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
There is some contention over the word usage here. Leepson: I have a difficulty with words “freemen.” he’s talking about white people. If you were an enslaved person, you’re not inclined to think “freemen” is accurate.Clague: It was a racialism era, and we can’t readjust the truth that countless of ours founding documents have racism at your heart, but for me, “freemen” describes whites and also blacks.
Between your lov’d home and also the war’s desolation!Blest with vict’ry and also peace might the heav’n rescued land
Leepson: This is plain-old American exceptionalism.Taylor: over there are religious references in a bland, standard way. Virtually everybody -- even human being who didn’t walk to church – believed there to be a God and that God was on your side.
Praise the strength that on foot made and also preserv’d us a nation!Then overcome we must, once our cause it is just,And this be our motto - “In God is our trust,” and also the star-spangled banner in triumph candlestick waveO’er the soil of the totally free and the home of the brave.

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Leepson: In the an initial line, crucial uses “freemen,” and also three lines later, he uses “us.” however “us” doesn’t incorporate African-Americans. Yet I don’t think this poem is pro-slavery as much as the anti-slaves who went to the brother side. And, again, “the soil of the free” excludes a million enslaved people, numerous of whom vital himself owned.Clague: The lyric ends through triumph and also optimism, going indigenous a concern in the very first stanza to finishing with an exclamation point. It’s a tide of patriotism that sweeps the country, and also the exclamation is a overview to the future in part ways. This lyric, which come us today feels prefer a sacred statement of that we are as a nation, in 1814 is a vision of a establishing son because that what he hopes the nation can become. And also in part ways, we’re still trying come live up to the hope and also patriotism of our anthem. It’s no a statement of that we are, however what us hope to become.